Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

From the Dub: The Final Four

As the world counts down to the royal wedding, the Regina Pats are rolling out the red carpet for junior hockey's royalty. Memorial Cup games start tomorrow. It's a wide open field of contenders this year. The Pats are hosting the Swift Current Broncos, Hamilton Bulldogs and Acadie-Bathurst Titan.Top NHL prospects will be on display, including goalie Stuart Skinner, World Junior hero Tyler Steenbergen and Regina Pats captain Sam Steel. One of the biggest weeks in the junior hockey season is about to begin. Who will come out on top? All the teams are too good to pick a sure thing, but I do know for sure that the WHL is going to be in the spotlight. 

Wish we were there: There are 22 teams in the WHL. Only two made it all the way to the Memorial Cup, one by virtue of being the host. The Swift Current Broncos defeated the Everett Silvertips to win the WHL Championship. I'm not going to lie. It's hard watching the competition progress in playoffs. I'm not upset so much that the Portland Winterhawks lost to Everett in the second round. It's the way they lost. The only way to explain it is that the Winterhawks were done before they were done. Now that the teams are set for the Memorial Cup, which WHL team do I root for?

Long time coming: The Swift Current Broncos last won a WHL title in 1993. They have won the Memorial Cup only once, in 1989. The team has also endured tragedy and scandal over the years.The Broncos certainly deserve the Cup. But they will have to defeat three other teams who worked equally hard to get here. Their opponent on May 23 will be the host team, the Regina Pats. This is the game to watch for WHL fans. The Swift Current Broncos eliminated the Pats in the first round of playoffs. 

Things happen for a reason: Newly signed by the Edmonton Oilers, Broncos goalie Stuart Skinner had six shutouts in the playoffs. In 26 games played, he registered a 16-8-2 record, 2.20 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. Skinner was part of a blockbuster deadline deal with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Trades don't always work out as planned. That was certainly the case for the Winterhawks, whose own blockbuster deal for Dennis Cholowski didn't result in a deep playoff run. For Skinner and the Broncos however, their deal paid off. The hockey gods were good to the Swift Current Broncos this year. Of the two WHL teams in contention, I think they have the better chance of winning the Memorial Cup. 

Safety first: It's Skinner's teammate Tyler Steenbergen you have to watch out for. Team Canada did not make much use of him at World Juniors, which was deceptive. When he finally scored, he went all in with the gold medal game winner. If he is strangely quiet at the Memorial Cup, get ready. It just means something big is coming. 

Man of Steel: Sam Steel was famously cut from Team Canada's 2017 World Junior roster. Surprising though it was at the time, it had a happy ending this year. He made the 2018 roster and was part of Team Canada's gold medal victory. The Pats also have strong goaltending from Ryan Kubic and Max Paddock, who took over as the starter after Kubic was injured. Paddock is currently ranked 22nd overall among North American goaltenders on the NHL Central Scouting final draft rankings. 

Keep the enemy closer: The WHL is in the spotlight this year, but the OHL and QMJHL have also dispatched their top talent. The Hamilton Bulldogs boast St. Louis Blues prospect and OHL Playoff MVP Robert Thomas. He was also part of Team Canada's gold medal win. Acadie-Bathurst Titan defender Noah Dobson is currently ranked fifth among North American skaters on Central Scouting's final draft rankings. 

Let the games begin: There is an upside to your team being eliminated from playoffs. I can root for whomever I want in this tournament. There's no stress involved, because I have no personal allegiances to any of the teams. Still, I feel obliged to support the WHL teams. I am giving a slight edge to the Broncos, but I think the Pats might surprise us. For the first time all season, I can truly say I'm going to sit back and enjoy the ride.  

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About Above the Glass

Welcome to Above the Glass, a definitive anti-expert’s guide to hockey. I started blogging in 2009 as part of an effort to learn all 87 rules in the NHL Rulebook in 107 days before the 2010 Olympics, 30 years after I discovered the sport. You can peruse the archival results here. Growing up in Arizona, I didn’t even know hockey existed until February 22, 1980, when the USA played Russia in the Olympics. And just like that, the game of the century changed my life. I still don’t quite understand the icing rule or which faceoff circle goes with what offense, but I do know that every aspect of hockey has something to teach us about life. That’s what you’ll find here, along with my unadulterated passion for the game.

I live in Portland, Oregon, home of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. I invite anyone who wants to know more about hockey in the Rose City to visit here, where I blog exclusively about the Winterhawks. I’ll post an occasional musing about the Hawks, the WHL and junior hockey here as well.

Follow me on Twitter: @AbovetheGlass

Email: samantha@kuklaskorner.com

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